Friends in disguise

2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT

When you’re insulted, you can retaliate with a stinging comeback or see it as a growth opportunity. David said, “It is good… that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71 NKJV). Psychologist Dr. Brenda Shoshanna says: “The person who insults us is a teacher…come to help us reduce our ego, develop patience and compassion, practice unconditional forgiveness, and teach us about life and relationships. If you don’t perceive an insult as an insult, but as a teaching or a gift, it loses its power to hurt you. On a practical level, if you’re insulted, say nothing. Give yourself time. Much harm is created by lashing back, escalating the situation, and saying things you may not mean. Recognize it’s your ego – that false sense of pride acting up – and don’t go along with it.” Paul reached a place where he actually took “pleasure in…insults.” Most of us aren’t quite there yet, but with time and practice it can happen. Speaking of Judas, one author writes: “God sometimes manipulates the actions of our enemies to make them work as friends in order to accomplish His will in our lives. He can bless you through the worst relationships, ones that are painful or negative. The time, effort, and pain we invest in them aren’t wasted because God knows how to make adversity feed destiny into your life. I can’t stop hurts from coming, or promise that everyone who sits at your table will be loyal. But the sufferings of success give us direction, build character, and in the end you find grace to re-evaluate your enemies and realize that like Judas, they are friends in disguise.”

Soul food: 1 Kings 17:1-6; 1 Kings 18:16-39; 1 Kings 19:9-18; 2 Kings 2:1-12

Comparisons (1)

Galatians 6:4 NIV

Let’s read a little bit more from today’s Bible verse. ‘If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else’ (Galatians 6:3-4 NIV). It’s plainly explained there that comparisons to others are never helpful. The original Greek word that Paul used for ‘someone else’ is ‘heteros’, which on its most basic level means ‘something completely different’. That reminds us what we’re doing when we compare ourselves to those around us. We’re trying to measure ourselves against someone who’s completely different to us, who has a different purpose and a different design to ourselves. Whichever way that goes, it can’t end in anything good. We either end up feeling superior, or inferior and, either way, that results in a distorted view of ourselves. We either think that we’re much better, or much worse, than we actually are, and allowing ourselves to be deceived like that gets in the way of examining our own thoughts and actions in a constructive way. That’s why Paul is talking about testing our own actions in the same breath as not comparing ourselves to others. If our eyes are always fixed on those around us, we’ll never have a chance to turn that gaze inward and take stock of where we’re really at ourselves. The best thing to do, then, is to commit to focusing on our own journey. We are becoming more like Jesus at our own pace, in our own way, and with our own plan tailor-made by Him. Our time is best spent finding out more about that, by focusing on our own relationship with Him.

Col 1-2; Luke 20:41-47; Ps 78:1-8; Prov 23:19-21

Being there (3)

2 Corinthians 1:4 MSG

When we’re trying to be there for someone, we can be sympathetic or we can go one step further and be empathetic. While sympathy shows compassion and kindness, empathy provides understanding. Empathy is putting ourselves into their shoes. Walking the pain with them. And true empathy can only come from having gone through the same, or similar, experience. Throughout the Bible, we’re reminded that Jesus faced suffering. He had to face temptation from the devil, grief over the death of His friend Lazarus, He was betrayed by His friend and He had to die on the cross. So when we’re facing temptation, loneliness, grief, betrayal or death, we know that Jesus has been there before us. He understands. He’s walked in our shoes. And He will be there through it all. The Bible says that God ‘comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.’ The things we have to go through can be used to help other people. We may be desperate for God to take the situation away from us, but He can bring something good from it. ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28 NIV). Sometimes that something good is the fact that we can be there for someone else who’s facing the same situation. So when we’re going through hard times, we can remember that not only does Jesus fully understand how we’re feeling, but that we’re also being equipped to be the best people to ‘be there’ for others.

Gal 5:23; Isa 40:9-11; Isa 42:1-4; Ps 18:31-35

Freedom (1)

Exodus 3:8 NIV

For 400 years the Israelites were enslaved by Egyptian taskmasters who oppressed them and ‘made their lives bitter’ (Exodus 1:14 NIV). Many of us can relate to their feelings of helplessness when we think about areas in our own lives where we struggle with habits. Whether it’s food, alcohol, money, procrastination or something else, we’ve probably all felt a little powerless and hopeless while trying to find freedom. And that can lead to us choosing to give up and just give in to being enslaved. Broken and crushed, the Israelites cried out to the Lord and He responded, ‘I have…seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out…and I am concerned about their suffering’ (Exodus 3:7 NIV). God extended compassion toward them: ‘So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into…a land flowing with milk and honey’ (v. 8 NIV). God came down to bring them up – and He can do the same for us today. The idea of God coming down in order to bring us up gives us hope. We don’t have to try and work for freedom alone. God intervenes. Our habits and sins are not too much for Him. When we admit we’ve gone wrong and ask Him to help us find freedom, He doesn’t turn away from us. Instead, He steps down into the situation and helps us to loosen the chains that have been around us. The Bible says: ‘The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2 Corinthians 3:17 NCV). So when the Spirit of the Lord steps down into our situations, there is freedom.

Judg 1-3; Mark 10:1-12; Ps 88:1-9a; Prov 13:1-3

Separating the sheep from the goats

Matthew 25:32 NLT

Jesus describes the judgment day in these words: “All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me'” (vv. 32-36 NLT). How will Jesus separate the sheep from the goats? And how will you know which one you are? Jesus says those on the right – the sheep – will be those who fed Him when He was hungry, brought Him water when He was thirsty, gave Him lodging when He was lonely, clothing when He was naked, and comfort when He was sick or imprisoned. The sign of the saved is their concern for those in need. Compassion doesn’t save them – or us. Salvation is the work of Christ. But compassion is the consequence of salvation. The sheep will react with a sincere question: When? When did we feed, visit, clothe, or comfort you? Then Jesus will answer, “Every time you showed compassion – you did it to me!” Try to keep that in mind as you go through this day.

Soul food: Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:1-11; Eph 4:7-10